WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump announced on Sunday that a commando raid in Syria this weekend had targeted and resulted in the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the founder and leader of the Islamic State, claiming a significant victory even as American forces are pulling out of the area.

“Last night, the United States brought the world’s No 1 terrorist leader to justice,” Trump said in a televised address from the White House. “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead.”

Trump said al-Baghdadi was chased to the end of a tunnel in the village of Barisha, “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way” as he was pursued by American military dogs. Accompanied by three children, al-Baghdadi then detonated a suicide vest, blowing up himself and the children, Trump said.

Al-Baghdadi’s body was mutilated by the blast, but Trump said tests had confirmed his identity. The president made a point of repeatedly portraying al-Baghdadi as “sick and depraved” and him and his followers as “losers” and “frightened puppies,” using inflammatory, boastful language unlike the more solemn approaches by other presidents in such moments. “He died like a dog,” Trump said. “He died like a coward.”

American forces targeted Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an operation in Syria

Trump said American forces, ferried by eight helicopters through airspace controlled by Russia with Moscow’s permission, were met by hostile fire when they landed and entered the target building by blowing a hole through the wall rather than taking a chance on a booby-trapped main entrance. No Americans were killed in the operation, although Trump said one of the military dogs was injured.

Trump, who is under threat of impeachment for abuse of power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate his domestic political rivals, appeared eager to claim credit for the raid, engaging in a lengthy question-and-answer session with reporters after his statement as he personally walked them through the details, promoted his own role and compared himself favourably to past presidents.

The US president described a daring nighttime airborne raid by American special operations forces during which a large number of his companions were killed. Al-Baghdadi’s 11 other children were “uninjured”, Trump said, and were left under the care of an unnamed third party.

According to him, the US received immediate and positive identification on the body after an on-site DNA test, and that the world is now a much safer place. “His body was mutilated by the blast. The tunnel had caved in on it in addition. But test results gave certain immediate and totally positive identification. It was him,” Trump told reporters.

“The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him,” he said providing graphic details of al-Baghdadi’s final moments.

Trump said he watched the operation from the White House Situation Room as it played out live “as though you were watching a movie.”

No US troops were injured in the operation, the US president said, adding that sensitive information was taken from the compound by US Special Forces. Trump also warned that al-Baghdadi’s successors are now in US “sights”.

Late on Saturday, Trump had teased a major announcement, posting on Twitter that “something very big has just happened!” By the morning, he was thanking Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq, as well as Kurdish fighters in Syria for their support.

The death of al-Baghdadi marks a significant foreign policy success for Trump, coming at one of the lowest points in his presidency as he is mired in impeachment proceedings.

Planning for the operation began two weeks ago, Trump said, after the US gained unspecified intelligence on al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts. Eight military helicopters flew for more than an hour over territory controlled by Russian and Syrian forces, Trump said, before landing under gunfire at the compound.

Commenting on Trump’s choice of words, Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, said it was important for the US president to “make clear” to those who follow or might support ISIL that al-Baghdadi is a coward. “It’s a way not only to kill al-Baghdadi physically, but also in terms of whatever memory there is of him … to kill his character,” he said.

“Clearly he’s going to be selling this point, about how he assassinated and ended the Islamic State and revived the American economy,” Bishara noted, referring to the upcoming US elections.

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said the mission was to capture or kill the ISIL leader. While Trump had initially said no Americans were injured, Esper said two service members suffered minor injuries but have already returned to duty.

Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said al-Baghdadi’s remains would be dealt with in accordance with Islamic law and buried at sea in the same way that bin Laden’s were.

ISIL, which at one point controlled swathes of Syria and Iraq, committed atrocities against religious minorities and were behind attacks in several countries. They were defeated by the US and its allies in March this year.

Al-Baghdadi became arguably the world’s most wanted man, and had a $25 million US bounty on his head. He kept a low public profile in recent years, releasing only sporadic audio recordings. In a recording just last month, he called on members of the group to do all they could to free ISIL prisoners and women held in jails and camps.